Preparing for bush fires in Australia
Every summer, Australia experiences devastating bush fires that scar the land and leave a lasting impact on many lives. Whilst education programs that focus on prevention and what to do during a bush fire are promoted every summer, the incidence of bush fires continues to increase. The increase can be linked to rising temperatures and population growth that has created urban sprawl.
The devastating effects of fires come in many forms. Just the total monetary cost of fires over the past 90 years, in today’s dollar terms, adds up to almost $7 billion; almost half of that was caused by bush fires that occurred in the past 13 years. According to news.com.au, bush fires in Australia
“are almost twenty times more deadly and eighty times more destructive than a century ago.”
Luckily, there are certain precautions that can be taken to reduce the risk of losing everything during a bush fire threat. Here is a list of things to do to help you prepare for bush fire season.
Insure your home and belongings
Sometimes there is nothing you can do to prevent the spread of fire. However, you can make sure that you have sufficient insurance in case a fire damages part of, or entirely destroys, your home. Many people do not have their homes and contents insured at all, or are underinsured, which can leave them without enough money to rebuild should they need to. Check that your home and contents insurance is up to date and check with your insurer that you have adequate coverage in the event of a fire.
Determine if your property is in a bush fire prone area.
Many councils have maps available on their website that identify areas at high risk of bush fire. Check if your property falls into one of these areas as you may need to take additional precautions, and make sure you are on any alert lists that the authorities use during emergencies.
Download the Fire and Rescue bush fire survival plan relevant to your State.
These free comprehensive documents will teach you and your family how to prepare, act and survive in the event of a fire. It includes life saving tips, including how and when to make the decision to vacate your property if there are any signs of fire, or when the fire danger rating is extreme or catastrophic, and your home is not built to withstand a fire.
Monitor each state’s fire alert maps for the latest updates.
NSW Rural Fire Service Fire Map
Victoria Rural Fire Service Fire Map
WA Rural Fire Service Fire Map
QLD Rural Fire Service Fire Map
With 3 alert levels, these real time maps tell you when you need to take action. You can also call your State’s Bush Fire Information Line.
Prepare your home and surroundings.
It is important to assess your home to identify potential fire hazards. Clear fire hazards and general debris so you have a safety zone around your main property. Hazards outside of the home can include overgrown shrubbery close to the house, gutters full of leaves and sources of open flames, for example barbecues or cigarette butts.
Some additional examples of ways to fire proof your home and its surroundings are:
- install fine mesh screens on your doors and windows;
- consider using metal sheeting for your roof rather than flammable wood products;
- erect a security fence that can act as a heat barrier; and
- install a sprinkler system.
If you have a static water supply like a pool, dam or water tank you can install a SWS sign out the front of your home to alert authorities to an additional water supply that may be used to help fight a fire.
Educate your family.
Ensure your family understands the devastation bush fires can cause. Often it is a simple thing (like using matches outside on a hot day) that can start a fire that quickly gets out of control.
Develop and rehearse a fire evacuation plan with your family in case you need to implement it, and be vigilant on the preventative measures during the drier months, such as always keeping gutters clear.
Bush fires can have devastating effects for Australians, but there are many measures you can take to help protect your home and family. A home is replaceable; your top priority should be protecting your family.
Bush fire facts
- A fire accelerates when traveling uphill and decelerates when moving downhill. Its speed doubles with each 10 degree increase. If you live near a slope, keep this in mind.
- More bush fires take place on Sundays than any other day.
- You should patrol your house for multiple hours after the fire has passed. You must continue to check for embers or sparks on and around your house.
- A fire can take as little as 5 -15 minutes to spread through your property.
- Embers can cause your house to catch fire hours before the actual fire arrives at your home. Play it safe and leave early.
- Fires can emit so much smoke that it will appear dark, even during the day. It can be both hard to see and hard to breathe.
- The reason bush fires are more likely to occur in hotter temperatures is because the “fuel is closer to its ignition point at high temperatures and pre-heated fuel loads burn faster.”
- Eucalyptus leaves rely on fires for regeneration and contain eucalyptus oil which is flammable, causing some bush fires to spread faster.
- Only about 6% of vegetation fires in Australia are naturally occurring. Many studies suggest that as high as 90% of fires are caused by humans and sadly 13% are believed to be deliberate.